I was 21, a senior in college, and on my first trip outside North America. I decided to spend my month-long winter break seeing Europe. I booked my tickets, planned my route, and talked it up to all my friends. None of them could make it. Everyone was either broke or needed to take a class. I had to do it alone. I figured I’d be out in the real world within a few months and wouldn’t have the time to travel if I didn’t take this chance.
So I set off on my flight to England with a rough itinerary, some train passes and a backpack full of supplies. Once I landed, I was terrified. I had no phone, no way of talking to anyone back home, no friends in Europe, and no idea what I had to do. I landed in London after a sleepless red-eye flight, wandered around the city before heading off on a night train to a ferry to Ireland. I was sleeping in naps an hour at a time for 2 days. I nearly cried. On my trip, sometimes I felt scared for myself and unbelievably lonely. But every so often I met amazing people who made me feel safe, happy, and gave me a little more faith in humanity.
Amazing person #1: Bangash
In Edinburgh on New Year’s Eve, the city shut down around one in the morning. The city was closed, and every hostel and inn was booked up. I decided to find excitement where I could and look for a place to sleep in the morning. I found some street musicians and danced with people I met. I ended up chatting up an engineering student named Bangash, and we walked around the city into the early morning hours. We napped at the train station when it opened, and spent the day seeing the city and locating my accomodations for the night. Bangash made me fell welcome in a big scary city. I probably would have cried if I had to wander the streets alone by myself.
Amazing person #2: Keiran
In Milan, in a hostel, I befriended a young German named Kieran. We went to dinner and walked around the city. There, a man approached us, trying to sell us a flower. I had found these flower sellers to be pushy and simply walked away, muttering something rudely. But Keiran stayed and talked to the man. The man was far from home, living in a group house with others from his country. He had to mail money back to his home country to support his family. Although we didn’t buy anything from the flower seller (although we probably should have), I learned from Kieran and the flower seller that the pushy obnoxious souvenier grifters are only trying to make a living for the people they love.
Amazing person #3: The nameless therapist
On the train from Venice to Vienna, I was robbed of all my cash, and my only credit card. After discovering this, I sat in my train car stressed and writing furiously in my journal, waiting to pull into town. I’d jump up and pace sporadically. I had no idea what to do. I wanted to cry. A woman entered my car and sat down as I was writing. She smiled at me. She spoke little English, but I explained my story slowly using a lot of pantomime. She talked to me, smiling gently, told me she was a therapist, and gave me 10 Euros. I smiled, laughed and thanked her. I explained to her how I would solve my problem, and she nodded and smiled back. We laughed and I felt more confident as I set off into the city.
In the end of the trip, I discovered that discovering the kindness of strangers can be the most rewarding part of travelling. You meet amazing people who reach out to you, who care, who genuinely want to help. It makes you feel that in a big scary, uncaring world, there still are people who will help you. It makes me strive to be a better person, and keeps me on the road.